Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chomsky in Gaza

Whether or not one agrees with Noam Chomsky's positions of principle on the Palestine issue - in particular his stubborn support for the "sensible" two-state solution - he remains what Elie Wiesel, to whom the phrase is usually applied, is most emphatically not: a moral instance. Chomsky's Deterring Democracy is the book that woke me up to political realities (disgracefully belatedly) some twenty years ago, and I still recommend it wholeheartedly. Now 83 years old, Chomsky is in Gaza where he was among those awaiting the arrival of the humanitarian ship SV Estelle when it was hi-jacked by Israeli state pirates. Here is Chomsky's latest and strongest statement on the matter:

  "I’m here in Gaza, I’ve been here for several days. I was here hoping to greet the latest boat from the Flotilla, the Estelle. We were waiting at the Gaza port. The boat, like earlier ones, was hijacked by the Israeli navy. They call it Israeli territorial waters, it’s actually Gazan waters or international waters, Israel has no right to those waters. The Estelle was another effort to break the siege, as in some way is our visit. The siege is a criminal act that has no justification. It should be broken and it should be strongly opposed by the outside world. It’s simply an effort to intimidate the Gazans into self-destruction, to try to get rid of them and destroy the society. There is absolutely no justification for it – military justifications are claimed but they have no credibility. The people on the boat should be honoured and respected for their courage and commitment and for undertaking a brave and important effort to break the siege, the criminal siege, and bring hope to the people of Gaza who are imprisoned, literally imprisoned in the biggest prison in the world. Also to bring to the world the message that we on the outside have a real responsibility to bring these criminal acts to an end."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Russell Tribunal in East Village III: Final Reflections

At the closing press conference of the New York Russell Tribunal on Palestine, 95-year-old Stephane Hessel, last surviving co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, exhorted the media to “BE BRAVE!”

So: were the media listening? Unfortunately, as far as the mainstream newspapers are concerned, the response is a predictable negative. The only mainstream “listener” was Sohrab Amari, an assistant books editor at the Wall Street Journal (if a paper so far to the right can truly be describes as “mainstream”). However, he only turned up on the first day and clearly was listening with only one ear.

Typically, even the headline of this article was inaccurate: Israel on Trial in New York. As far as the Tribunal is concerned, Israel was condemned according to due process at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in July 2004. It has not been in the dock at any session of the RToP, which has concentrated on the question of international complicity with Israel’s crimes. Hence Amari’s whinges that “there was no one to speak for the defendant, the world’s sole Jewish state” and that “the verdict was never in doubt” were deliberately beside the point.

In fact it appears that jury member Roger Waters informed Amari that the RToP “is a people’s tribunal and we do invite the other side to attend.” Amari wonders parenthetically “Why would the Israelis have declined such an invitation”? However, at the very start of the event Pierre Galand informed the audience that not alone had Israel declined to attend, but that neither of the actual defendants – the US government and the UN – had even responded to the Tribunal’s invitation to send representatives.

According to the self-styled “news dissector” Danny Schechter, who gives a largely fair account of the event, Amari repeatedly complained to him that “‘It’s so one sided…’” Schechter comments: “That was strange coming from a member of the Journal’s Opinion page that is known for being… as one-sided as they come.”

Schechter himself, however, writing for the informative but erratic website Global Research, gave a rather misleading impression of the atmosphere at the Tribunal: “the whole event tended to be passionless, academic and legalistic. There were long lectures on legal precedents that the lawyers in the room might have appreciated but put some people around me to sleep.”

Certainly I noticed nobody sleeping, and if anybody was so inclined there was nothing to stop them from stepping into the foyer and sampling some of the delicious and punch-packing Ethiopian coffee laid on gratis for participants. And how could a legal tribunal, even a civil one, be anything other than “academic and legalistic”? My own feeling, and one that was shared by everyone whom I met, was that the atmosphere was enthusiastic and, indeed, passionate.

However, Schechter dealt convincingly with an issue that had puzzled (and, to be honest, disappointed) me: the total absence of Zionist protestors outside the Cooper Union. Here’s Schechter’s take:

[At the Capetown session of the RToP] South African supporters of Israel mounted an angry protest that drew major media attention.  Perhaps that’s why the often vociferous pro-Israel lobby in New York stayed away this time, hoping the Tribunal and its findings would be ignored…

Another considered account of the Tribunal that nonetheless made what I consider to be unjust and rather gratuitous criticisms came from Christopher Federici, who contributed it to the Palestine Chronicle. Referring to the testimony from Vera Gowlland-Debbas, former Rapporteur for the UNCHR, Federici writes:

The sobering inference from this testimony is that the existing international legal framework is insufficient in addressing the Israeli occupation, as the establishment dominated by American and European elite [sic] is clearly disinclined to act upon its own mandate. Mired in cynicism, the entire mission of the Tribunal appeared futile with its strict emphasis on discussing a power structure that most speakers acknowledged provides little recourse for Palestinians.

Why “mired in cynicism”? Surely the cynicism is elsewhere, and surely it was part of the brief for the RToP to ascertain the insufficiency of the existing international legal framework and to establish that it “provides little recourse for Palestinians”? But there’s more:

Ultimately, the Tribunal appeared conflicted by stark contrasts between the desire to project a sense of procedural legality and the inescapable underpinnings of activism that drove the very desire to organize. This conflict, it could be argued, sullied the effectiveness of either initiative.

Where is the conflict? That there is a complex dialectic between the respective underpinnings of procedural legality on the one hand and activism on the other is self-evident, not least to international lawyers and activists, and is seen by most of them (in my opinion and experience) as a productive factor. I met nobody in New York who felt "sullied", but then I didn't meet Mr Federici.

Similar language was used in a still more damaging article by Abraham Greenhouse, who blogs at the widely respected website Electronic Intifada to which I am myself an occasional contributor.

While the “witnesses” were mainly international law experts at home in the world of inter-governmental bodies and narrowly-defined protocols for advancing an action, the majority of attendees…  were oriented toward grassroots activism operating largely outside of such channels. This particular contradiction resonated throughout the entire event.

Once again, where Greenhouse sees a contradiction I see a dialectic. He seems to see “grassroots activists” as brawny doers indifferent to theoretical refinements, as opposed to narrow specialists with their heads in the law-books, thereby grossly caricaturing both. His claim that  

the very experts explaining the myriad ways in which the United Nations and all its organs were so thoroughly broken had yet to relinquish the idea that these remained the most viable mechanisms for achieving justice for Palestinians

bears no relation to the strong critiques of the UN voiced by, among others, Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Phyllis Bennis, or Peter Jansen. Furthermore, the Tribunal's conclusion that the UN is itself in violation of international law in its failure to implement its resolutions on Israel is surely radical and important. Greenhouse's huffy assertion that

Grassroots Palestinian activists and their allies are no longer accustomed to such a dismal view of their own agency

belies the fact that no such “dismal view” was forthcoming (except perhaps from the increasingly dismal Noam Chomsky), the vitality of civil society activism having been emphasised by speaker after speaker.

In short the “futility of relying on [the] UN” mentioned in the title of Greenhouse’s piece and posited by him as a critique of the RToP could, on the contrary, have served as a subtitle for the Tribunal itself. Greenhouse reserves his most pompous pronouncements for the end of his article:

 I’m less concerned about finding the perfect descriptor[sic] for Israel’s ongoing assault on the lives and rights of Palestinians than I am about fighting it. The terms that matter most to me begin with B, D, and S.

By Jove, the man thinks he has invented the wheel! Greenhouse seems to be implying that none of the speakers at the Cooper Union share his heroic desire to fight for Palestinian rights. But not alone was BDS advocated by many these speakers, it was also at the heart of the three previous sessions – I can well remember the collective intake of breath when it was advocated, against all expectations, in the conclusions of the jury at the end of the first (Barcelona) session. Indeed the advocacy of BDS by such a venerable institution may be instanced as one of the many refutations of Norman Finkelstein’s deplorable thesis that BDS is a “cult”!

Nobody would suggest that Palestinian rights activists should refrain from critique of the Russell Tribunal out of some misplaced sense of loyalty, and in the course of these blogs I’ve made one or two criticisms of my own. Nonetheless, many of the criticisms in “progressive” outlets are less than comradely; they give the impression that certain vain activists feel that a bunch of toffee-nosed intellectuals is attempting to trespass on their territory.

Ultimately, the RToP is simply another tool in the struggle for Palestinian rights, which is simultaneously a struggle for a better world order. We can never have too many such tools.

As I was writing this piece, I discovered that RToP coordinator Frank Barat had published his own response to some of these criticisms. I’m proud to end my own account of the New York session with Frank’s words:

So don't get me wrong, criticism is important, actually crucial. Receiving feedback from activists about the tribunal's work is essential. No one is perfect. We strive on constructive criticism. But please be fair.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Russell Tribunal in the East Village II: "We need this thing to go viral!"

The Cooper Union is particularly proud that on 27th February 1860 Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his most famous speeches there, perhaps the one that resulted in his election as US president. One sentence is singled out and printed on a plaque in the building’s foyer: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

In the course of the fourth session of the Russell Tribunal I reflected on this quotation repeatedly, and came to the conclusion that its fine sentiments are as dangerous as they are uplifting. For is it not the USA’s unshakeable conviction that it is always right, that being right is in fact its manifest destiny, that has led it so consistently to abuse its might? Aggressive self-righteousness – George W. Bush’s “I know how good we are” – is one of the factors that have placed the USA in the dock at the Cooper Union.

The US and Israeli governments, incidentally, were invited to send representatives to the Tribunal. Neither self-righteous power was righteous enough to respond.
The second day of the RToP was so packed that I must confine my attentions to a few contributions. The full proceeds can anyway be found on the RToP’s website.

Once again, the session began with a highlight. Although Palestinian-Canadian Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO, chose to jettison her prepared text and speak ad lib, her speech came across as one of the most focussed and structured contributions of the weekend, as well as being moving and passionate.

The goal of the “peace process”, under American tutelage, has been to cement Zionist policy. From 1967 until the Reagan era, the colonial settlements were defined as “illegal”. Under Clinton they ceased to be illegal and became “obstacles to peace”. Under Obama they have ceased to be either illegal or obstacles to peace, whereas “continued settlement activity” is defined as “illegitimate”. This transformation of illegality into legality typifies US policy. She mocked the common trope that “we all know what a solution looks like”, viz, a two-state arrangement with territorial adjustments. “Do we?” she asked rhetorically, pointing out that the incorporation if illegal colonial settlements into Israel “proper” would merely constitute a further massive redrawing of borders in Israel’s favour.

Buttu concluded by thanking the Russell Tribunal “for bringing Palestine to the USA”. Although bringing Palestinians to the USA is just as fraught as difficulties, there are so many brilliant Palestinian intellectuals based here (Joseph Massad, Rashid Khalidi, Ali Abunimah are names that spring to mind) that it is difficult to understand why, apart from Buttu and in the absence of Huwaida Arraf (unfortunately prevented by illness from participating), there was only one other Palestinian contributor to the Tribunal.

This was the historian Saleh Hamayel, also known as Abd al-Jawad or Abdul-Jawad, a confusion of nomenclature that he related to that between (jury member) “Dennis Banks” and “Naawakamig”. Billed to discuss the relevance to Palestine of the concept of sociocide, Hamayel, a fiery orator, suggested that it replace apartheid which he deemed inapplicable to the Palestinian situation because it is not strictly comparable to apartheid South Africa.

This gave rise to an extraordinary moment in the ensuing question-and-answer session when jury member Michael Mansfield QC demanded that Hamayel provide the official UN definition of apartheid, repeatedly interrupting him when he attempted to reply. Mansfield’s substantive point was correct – the Capetown session of the RToP had gone to great lengths to establish that the relevance of apartheid to Israel/Palestine consists not in analogies with South Africa (although such analogies exist), but in the applicability to both regimes of the Apartheid Convention. However, while it was shocking enough to see an expert witness being attacked by a jury member, it was doubly shocking that the victim was a Palestinian; cries of “shame” were audible from the audience. Fortunately Hamayel, who had survived repeated imprisonment without trial by the Israelis, did not seem particularly dismayed.

The legendary Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, who first framed the concept of sociocide, spoke to define it: “the killing of a society’s capacity to survive and reproduce itself”. In subsequent discussion it was agreed (although possibly not by the slightly cryptic Galtung) that while the concept undoubtedly has descriptive power in relation to the destruction of Palestinian society, the fact that it is currently not defined as a crime under international law and is anyway subsumed under the definition of genocide limits its relevance to the case at hand.

Russell Means, “the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse”, was to have spoken on The Sociocide of the Native Americans, but at the last moment this former supporter of the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras was replaced via skype by Ward Churchill, an equally controversial figure among native Americans. He appeared to be saying forceful things about the relationship between genocide and sociocide, but unfortunately a technological gremlin caused his words to become increasingly incomprehensible.

Other gremlins interfered with the day’s most eagerly anticipated speaker, Noam Chomsky. Laryngitis prevented his turning up in the flesh, while his self-confessed technical incompetence meant that, in contradiction to Means, we could hear him clearly but see on-screen only a ghostly outline of his featureless head surmounted by that enviable mop of white hair.

Chomsky’s Retrospect and Prospect concentrated mainly on the former, and on that level was comprehensive and incisive. His final words, however, were “the prospects are grim”, after which he lapsed into stubborn silence. The somewhat gothic nature of Chomsky’s overall performance cast a pall of gloom over many audience members, but two sprightly contributions helped to dispel it.

Theologian David Wildman displayed a welcome and irrepressible sense of humour although his subject, Christian Zionism and the Israel Lobby, was potentially one of the most depressing imaginable. Having usefully linked the Israel Lobby (of which Christian Zionists are a major component) to Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex, he listed seven nefarious traits characteristic of Christian Zionism: it is dualistic (good versus evil – “I know how good we are”), provides a religious apology for US/Israeli militarism as part of God's plan, sees truth as based on belief rather than facts, provides a theological apology for US imperial/corporate power, has an insatiable need for official enemies (czarists, communists, Muslims), considers all pro-peace and pro-justice groups to be enemies, and advocates the most extreme forms of right-wing populism. He was severely critical of mainstream (“liberal”) Christianity for its failure to condemn Christian Zionism unequivocally, and (prodded by jury member Mairead Corrigan) concluded that when the Church allies itself with power, “just war theory” is an all too natural consequence.

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies delivered the most exhilarating speech of the day, one involuntarily spiced by a Freudian slip of the tongue when she described Kofi Annan as “former Secretary General of the United States”. While she catalogued a woeful litany of US abuses of the UN, she also listed a succession of hopeful developments such as the increased independence of Latin American countries and their willingness to espouse the Palestinian cause, and the unexpected (if vain) rebellion of delegates at the recent Democratic Convention when called upon to reinstate language describing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in violation of international law. Asserting that international civil society campaigns focussing on a single issue were more effective than a multiplicity of national campaigns on separate issues, she recommended the multinational Veolia as an appropriate target.
On Monday morning, 8th October, at the Church Center for the United Nations directly opposite the United Nations building, a press conference was held at which Michael Mansfield read out the “Executive Summary of the Findings of the Fourth Session of the Russell Tribunal”. Here are the most relevant conclusions:

The Tribunal finds that Israel’s ongoing colonial settlement expansion, its racial separatist policies, as well as its violent militarism would not be possible without the US’s economic, military, and diplomatic support…

It is the opinion of this Tribunal that the US has committed the following violations of international and US law:

By enabling and financing Israel’s violations of international humanitarian and human rights norms, the US is guilty of complicity in international wrongful acts…

By obstructing accountability for violations of the Geneva Conventions, the US has failed to meet its obligations as a High Contracting Party…

In continuing to provide economic support for settlement expansion, the US is also in violation of the International Court of Justice’s jurisprudence…

By stonewalling an international resolution to the conflict by abusing its veto power within the Security Council, the US is in violation of several provisions of the UN Charter…

By failing to condition military aid to Israel… on its compliance with human rights norms and strict adherence to the law of self-defence, the US is in violation of its own domestic law.

…[T]he UN’s failure to take action proportionate to the duration and severity of Israel’s violations of international law…, and by not exhausting all peaceful means of pressure available to it, the UN does not comply with the obligations that States have conferred on [it]. …[B]y its failure to act more strongly than it does, the UN violates international law. The effect of these failures is to undermine the rule of law and the integrity and legitimacy of the institutions of international law.

The lack of concrete UN action against Israel constitutes an internationally wrongful act… [T]he UN must stop its wrongful omission and compensate for the damage suffered by Palestine.

In conclusion, the Tribunal proposed that change can be achieved by

1.      1. The mobilization of international public opinion… via the various manifestations of civic society:
a.      Networks, movements with particular emphasis upon the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, trade unions and other campaigns.
b.      Social media networks.

2.      2. Paying attention to the vital role of criminal and civil litigation against the perpetrators of the various violations before domestic courts.

3.      3. The referral of crimes committed in Palestine to the I[nternational]C[riminal]C[ourt] by the Security Council or by the acceptance of the Declaration made by the Palestinian government in January 2009 accepting the competence of the ICC.

4.      4. Reforming the UN itself, for example by the abolition of the veto by the five permanent members of the Security Council…
At this press conference 95-year-old Stephane Hessel, last surviving co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, exhorted the media to “BE BRAVE!” Over the next few days it will be interesting to see whether they, and particularly the mainstream media, are paying attention. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wished his Tribunal to “prevent the crime of silence”, but this noble aim can easily be subverted by the media which, more often than not, are complicit in the propagandistic aims of power.

I shall return in my next blog to this issue, and to the overall questions raised by the whole RToP project. Meanwhile, let superstar Roger Waters have the last word: 

“We need this thing to go viral!”

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Russell Tribunal in the East Village I

It is 10 A.M. and the first day of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) should already have started. However, the queue outside the Cooper Union in New York’s East Village has barely moved since I joined it almost an hour ago. By now it is reputedly almost 1000 strong and there are dark rumours that it will be noon before it has been fully accommodated in the historic building’s Great Hall.

This being the USA, the problem is security. It appears that attendees are being allowed into the venue six at a time, where their bags are searched and they are screened by a metal detector. Every so often an RToP volunteer sallies forth and thanks us for our patience. I have now rounded the corner and am within sight of the main entrance, which is good, but am standing in the sun, which is bad because it forces me to don a baseball cap that makes me feel stupid.

Now a Cooper Union security man emerges and tells us to place our bags and rucksacks on the ground beside us. Another security man materialises, leading a diminutive Labrador dog on a leash. The dog, wagging its tail amiably, sniffs our bags, and its master gestures us to move towards the door. The metal detector has been abandoned, and now everything moves rapidly. Being a Luddite and a dog-lover, I feel doubly vindicated.

Inside, I meet many old friends and associates, people whom I have encountered at conferences and demonstrations on behalf of Palestinian rights in Dublin, London, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Barcelona and previously here in New York. Although we are all conscious of the seriousness of the occasion, there is also something of the feel of a family reunion – and to enhance it, here is my sister Patricia, in harness as a translator for the Tribunal.

At last, over an hour late, we are ready to start. Pierre Galand, Belgian socialist ex-senator, veteran of innumerable solidarity campaigns but most intimately associated with the cause of Palestine through the Association Belgo-Palestinienne, the European Co-ordinating Committee of NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP), and now the RToP, welcomes us to the session. He deplores that fact that neither Leila Shahid, Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the European Union, nor Raji Sourani, founder and director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, was able to obtain a visa to come to New York. He warns us that since this is a tribunal and not a public meeting we must resist the temptation to applaud at any stage. He is warmly applauded.

Pierre Galand announces the first speaker, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé. The audience spontaneously bursts into applause, and Pierre almost loses his considerable cool. “Please do not applaud! The audiences in Capetown were able to obey this simple rule – why cannot we do it in New York?” Nobody looks particularly contrite.

Ilan speaks about the history of Zionism. I have often seen and heard him speak, but today he outdoes himself: clarity, passion and humour culminate in a plea not to allow advocacy for the Palestinian cause to be limited by the parameters of an increasingly illusory “two-state solution” – all conveyed effortlessly within a 20’ time-span. This will be a hard act to follow.

He is followed by Peter Hansen, former Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). He does not attempt a history of the UN’s involvement in the Palestine issue, but characterises the organisation under six headings: its role as source and generator of International Law, its responsibility for implementing these laws, its role in interpreting them, its supervisory/monitoring role, its humanitarian activities (in particular UNRWA), and its institution-building capacity. The UN, he believes, cannot be reformed from within but only by civil society pressure on its constituent governments.

The British activist Ben White has been handed the daunting task of outlining “Israeli Policies Since 1948”, but is clearly determined that his audience will not be starved of its lunch for longer than necessary. The Law of Return, the Absentee Property Law, the Law of Human Dignity and Liberty, the Jewish National Fund, the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish Agency, the Judaisation of the Negev and Galilee – they fly past at a rate that would be bewildering were it not for Ben’s calm articulacy.

At some point Frank Barat, Tribunal coordinator, shows a bald, elderly black gentleman to his seat. I experience a deep frisson as I realise that this is Harry Belafonte, legendary singer and vocal human rights activist, a hero of my distant childhood. With him in the audience and Davis, McKinney and Walker on the jury, it seems that the icons of black America – all except their president, Barack Obama – are uniting on the side of the persecuted Palestinians. This in itself could be a major factor leading to a shift in US public opinion.

After lunch, law Professor and author John Quigley speaks on The Establishment of a Palestinian State, and is unambiguous in his support for the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to achieve statehood at the UN. This, of course, is a controversial question but Quigley is quietly convincing. Indeed he claims that there has in fact been a Palestinian state since at least 1924, while conceding that not everyone would agree with him.

International lawyer Vera Gowlland-Debbas delivers the day’s lengthiest and most technical exposition, on the legal responsibilities of the UN. From the start she expresses her conviction that the UN has failed in those responsibilities, at least as far as the Palestinians are concerned. She concludes that the double standards of the Security Council have endangered the principle of the rule of law in international affairs.

Pakistani-American international lawyer Susan Akram speaks on Palestinian Refugees and the United Nations. She threads her way carefully through the anomalies introduced by UN General Assembly Resolution 194 which, by guaranteeing Palestinian refugees the right of return, at a stroke separated their fate from that of refugees destined for resettlement, whose interests are ably represented by the UNHCR. The creation of UNRWA catered to the material needs of Palestinian refugees while depriving them of advocacy, which does not come within UNRWA’s mandate. These refugees therefore find themselves in a legal limbo.

The absence of a Palestinian voice among today’s speakers would have been powerfully rectified by Raji Sourani. In the event, he is represented by Jeanne Mirer, president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. While she provides numerous details and statistics about the baleful consequences of Israel’s occupation and siege of the tiny Gaza Strip, what hits home most forcefully is the evidence in her manner and tone of voice that what she has seen in Gaza has shocked and angered her profoundly.

And thus the first long day of the fourth international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine draws to a close. Audience and participants stand around and gossip for a time, then a bunch of us repair to a bar where I drink ginger ale while my companions enjoy $5 happy-hour cocktails.

Returning home to my refuge in the upper West Side, I change trains at Times Square. On the platform a skinny black man is playing Beethoven’s Für Elise on a steel drum. Catching my eye he interrupts himself and chirps “hi, daddy!” before resuming his startling performance. This is slightly disconcerting, but this is New York, New York…

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Hopeful Kick-off

I'm writing this in New York City. I have just returned from Barnard College, a private women's college affiliated to Columbia University, where I attended the "Kick-off Celebration" for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The RToP, named after the British philosopher and humanitarian Bertrand Russell, is a people's tribunal that was first envisioned in 2004 after it became clear that the international community (including, be it said, the government of Ireland) intended to ignore the legal consequences of the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory:

All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction;  all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.

The Barnard event was co-sponsored by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, the Black Students' Organization (BSO), LUCHA, Students Against Mass Incarceration, International Socialist Organization, Radical College Undergraduates Not Tolerating Sexism, Turath (the Arab Students' Organisation at Columbia University), and the Muslim Students Association. In keeping with this mix, the performers and the audience represented a multicultural/multiethnic/multiracial diversity that, united in support of Palestinian human rights, itself generated a heady feeling of hope and optimism. The people of the world are with the Palestinians, even if their governments are not!

This blog is not setting out to be a review of the event, which a late start combined with my jet-lag induced me to leave before the end. However, the two hours that I experienced featured a succession of highlights, ranging from The Peace Poets through American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks (who disappointingly disavowed any Irish heritage) to the gloriously zen Alice Walker.

The New Internationalist has just published an article called Palestine is no longer a dirty word by my friend Frank Barat, who has been coordinator of the RToP since it started. I want to finish up with a quotation from this that conveys better than anything I've read recently the reasons why so many people all over the world are passionately committed to the Palestinian cause:

Palestine is not a faraway conflict between Jews and Muslims. Palestine is about us, all of us. Palestine is about human civilization and what it represents. Palestine is about the world we are living in. Its history, its present and its future. Palestine is about Greece, Spain. The names are different but the struggle is the same. It is a struggle for justice, dignity, freedom, respect, humanity, love – and it is an exhilarating one. 

And, I might add, Palestine is about Syria and Iran and Somalia - and Ireland. Over the next two days the struggle will continue in the Cooper Union, when the RToP's international jury will place the United States and the United Nations in the dock.